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Meeting the Unique Needs of Female Athletes

July 2023 | Stefanus Brand Greeff

Female athletes have come a long way in the past few years, with women athletes comprising almost half of the participants in the 2016 Rio Olympics. This is a clear indication that women's sports have gained widespread recognition and acceptance. However, the unique needs of female athletes are often overlooked, particularly when it comes to sports supplements. In this article, we will explore the essential sports supplements for female athletes and how they can help them achieve better performance, endurance, and recovery.

 

Understanding the Nutritive Imbalances Women Face in Sports Nutrition

Women's nutritive needs vary throughout their lifetime, particularly during puberty, pregnancy, lactation, and menopause. Hormonal fluctuations during menstrual cycles also affect women's nutritive needs. Nutrients like iron and calcium are critical for women's health, but their levels tend to decline due to various body changes. Additionally, female athletes face several nutritive imbalances, such as inadequate energy intake, low fat, protein, and micronutrient consumption, and ignorance towards carbohydrate consumption. These imbalances can negatively impact their athletic performance and overall health.

The Most Popular Ingredients for Endurance, Recovery, and Performance

Several key ingredients can help female athletes enhance their performance, endurance, and recovery. Some of the most popular ingredients include creatine, beta-alanine, essential amino acids, vitamin D, and joint support supplements. Creatine, for instance, is a naturally occurring substance found in muscle cells that helps produce energy during high-intensity exercises and heavy lifting. Beta-alanine helps reduce acid accumulation in muscles during workouts, reducing fatigue and improving athletic performance. Essential amino acids are building blocks of life that make up muscles and help synthesize hormones, neurotransmitters, and other tissues. Vitamin D plays a crucial role in muscle health, bone formation, and immune function, while joint support supplements can help reduce joint pain and improve joint health.

The Benefits of Creatine for Female Athletes

Creatine is a popular sports supplement for female athletes, particularly those involved in high-intensity workouts and weightlifting. It is a naturally occurring substance found in muscle cells that helps produce energy during high-intensity exercises and heavy lifting. Creatine supplementation can help female athletes generate more power, improve mood and cognition, and counteract the menopause-related decline in muscle, bone, and strength. A recent study on older, untrained women found that those supplementing with creatine doubled the strength gained from a 10-week resistance training program compared to those not using creatine. Creatine is generally safe, but those with existing kidney issues should consult with their doctor before taking it.

The Benefits of Beta-Alanine for Female Athletes

Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that helps form carnosine, which the body stores in muscles and other tissues. Carnosine acts as a buffer in the body, helping to reduce acid accumulation in muscles during exercise, which reduces fatigue and improves athletic performance. Beta-alanine supplementation can help female athletes be more fatigue-resistant, recover better, and get more out of their training, particularly as they age. Daily supplementation with 4 to 6 g of beta-alanine for at least 2 to 4 weeks has been shown to improve exercise performance. The most common side effect is a pins-and-needles, tingling sensation on the skin, especially at the higher end of that recommended dosage.

The Benefits of Essential Amino Acids for Female Athletes

Essential amino acids are building blocks of life that make up muscles and help synthesize hormones, neurotransmitters, and other tissues. Some amino acids can be converted into glucose or other energy substrates to provide fuel for the body during exercise. Essential amino acids, particularly branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), are critical for muscle metabolism. Leucine, in particular, promotes muscle protein synthesis, even when women eat less total protein. The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends aiming for at least 10 to 12 grams of EAAs and 1 to 3 grams of leucine from protein-rich meals and/or snacks, in addition to a balanced array of essential amino acids. An amino acid supplement that contains BCAAs can help female athletes get what they need.

The Benefits of Vitamin D for Female Athletes

Vitamin D plays a crucial role in muscle health, bone formation, immune function, and overall performance. However, athletes may have higher vitamin D requirements compared to the general population because of their increased physical activity levels. Research finds that low vitamin D levels may have negative effects on muscle strength, power, and endurance and increase stress fractures and other musculoskeletal injuries. Vitamin D can be obtained through sun exposure and dietary sources like fatty fish, fortified dairy products, egg yolks, and mushrooms. However, supplementation may be the best way to avoid running low, particularly for those who don't get enough sun exposure. Experts often recommend taking a supplement containing 800 IU of vitamin D3 per day to maintain normal vitamin D levels.

The Benefits of Joint Support Supplements for Female Athletes

Women are more likely to develop musculoskeletal injuries and osteoarthritis than men, and female athletes put high demands on their musculoskeletal system. Joint support supplements, such as collagen, glucosamine, eggshell membrane, and Boswellia, can help support joint health and reduce joint pain. Collagen peptides, for instance, when paired with resistance training, can help promote connective tissue recovery, decrease pain, and improve strength and body composition. Eggshell membrane has shown potential to reduce pain and stiffness, while Boswellia reduced pain and stiffness and improved joint function. Joint support supplements may be especially helpful for women as they age and the muscle and connective tissues become less robust.

Conclusion

Female athletes require special attention over their male counterparts due to hormonal fluctuations, body changes, and nutritive imbalances. Nutrients like iron, calcium, and vitamin D are critical for women's health, but their levels tend to decline due to various body changes and inadequate nutrition. Sports supplements like creatine, beta-alanine, essential amino acids, vitamin D, and joint support supplements can help female athletes enhance their performance, endurance, and recovery. The female sports nutrition industry has gained momentum in recent years, but it still has a long way to go in meeting the unique needs of female athletes. Nutraceutical brands must create high-quality sports nutrition products specifically formulated for female athletes that can help them achieve better performance, endurance, and recovery.

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